Earl Pace on racism in the IT workplace
At the end of last year tech pioneer and Black Data Processing Association (BDPA) founder Earl Pace set down for a candid interview with Don Tennant from Computerworld. Below are some excerpts from that interview:
In your experience, in what ways does racism typically manifest itself in the IT workplace? Computerworld demonstrated one with its 2008 Salary Survey statistics about the disparity in remuneration. It manifests itself in promotions. It even manifests itself in the way in which companies interact with BDPA. We have companies who are very anxious to come to BDPA’s conferences because they want to hire our technical people. But they are loathe to come to a BDPA conference to demonstrate their software or hardware, to deal with us as a high-technology organization where the people who are moving through our expo are people who can and do influence purchasing decisions. Those kinds of presentations and exhibits are very difficult, almost impossible, for us to get. We have booth after booth of companies that want to hire people.
How is the problem of racism in the IT workplace changing? Is it becoming less of a problem, or is it just manifesting itself in different ways? It is not less of a problem. It is, perhaps, more subtle or sophisticated. There are some promotions that have occurred. There are probably more African-Americans and other minorities that have been promoted to senior-level positions than existed in 1975 when BDPA was formed. But the impact of those people at higher levels is marginal with respect to bringing other African-Americans up the pipeline to replace or to supplement them.
Are the challenges faced by African-Americans in the IT workplace different from those faced by other minorities? If so, how are they different. This is a complicated issue to describe or to put your finger on. There are myriad opportunities that people have to discriminate, and color is a significant one. Sometimes it’s exacerabted by the exposure opportunity that you have had. For instance, people from India often have a color issue. But the emphasis is reduced by a skill set or by a perception that these people have been trained and are technically sophisticated. Regardless of that, they do experience a degree of discrimination simply because of skin color.
Hispanics run the gamut of skin color. With African-Americans, because of our historical legacy in the United States, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. Some you experience as a business owner, and some you experience in your job.
What is your response to black IT professionals who say they just want to be thought of as IT professionals, not as black IT professionals? That they are operating under a delusion.
What has to happen in order for there to no longer be a need for an association of black IT professionals? Parity. What I would like to emphasize, though, probably more than anything else, is that professional organizations are very, very necessary, particularly for African-Americans and other minorities. The necessity doubles when you get into economic circumstances like what we’re in now. A professional organization gives you an opportunity to develop skills that you’ll need in your workplace but does it in an environment that is supportive, as opposed to combative.